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To reduce consumer health risks from foodborne diseases that result from improper domestic food handling, consumers need to know how to safely handle food. To realize improvements in public health, it is necessary to develop interventions that match the needs of individual consumers. Successful intervention strategies are therefore contingent on identifying not only the practices that are important for consumer protection, but also barriers that prevent consumers from responding to these interventions. A measure of food safety behavior is needed to assess the effectiveness of different intervention strategies across different groups of consumers. A nationally representative survey was conducted in the Netherlands to determine which practices are likely conducted by which consumers. Participants reported their behaviors with respect to 55 different food-handling practices. The Rasch modeling technique was used to determine a general measure for the likelihood of an average consumer performing each food-handling behavior. Simultaneously, an average performance measure was estimated for each consumer. These two measures can be combined to predict the likelihood that an individual consumer engages in a specific food-handling behavior. A single “food safety” dimension was shown to underlie all items. Some potentially safe practices (e.g., use of meat thermometers) were reported as very difficult, while other safe practices were conducted by respondents more frequently (e.g., washing of fresh fruit and vegetables). A cluster analysis was applied to the resulting data set, and five segments of consumers were identified. Different behaviors may have different effects on microbial growth in food, and thus have different consequences for human health. Once the microbial relevance of the different consumer behaviors has been confirmed by experiments and modeling, the scale developed in the research reported here can be used to develop risk communication targeted to the needs of different consumer groups, as well as to measure the efficacy of different interventions.
Social Sciences Group, Marketing and Consumer Behaviour Group, Wageningen University, Wageningen, The Netherlands. 2:
Microbiological Laboratory for Health Protection, National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM), Bilthoven, The Netherlands.